Protyre Formula Renault Championship leader Chris Middlehurst (St. Helens) completed a hat-trick of race victories at Thruxton in Hampshire this afternoon, Sunday, 2nd June, to open up a remarkable 96 point cushion as the first half of the 2013 season reached its conclusion.
Having taken his fourth win of the year in round six yesterday, the MGR Motorsport driver bagged his second success of the weekend in round seven, after a titanic battle with category rookie Weiron Tan (London), and then re-assumed his dominance in round eight to seal a near perfect weekend.
Claiming all three pole positions, all three victories and posting the fastest race lap in two of the three encounters, even with eight races still remaining 18-year-old Middlehurst is looking almost unstoppable in his quest for the coveted title.
“I don’t think this weekend could have gone any better really”, said the points leader, “Three wins, three poles and then two fastest laps – it’s fantastic. I’m trying to just focus on scoring the points, I’m not thinking about the championship.
“It’s important to keep pushing, the moment you think about things like championships, that’s when you start to lose and things go wrong, We just need to keep pushing for wins and podiums and then see where we are at the end of the year.”
Tan and Cook both celebrate double Thruxton podiums
Middlehurst made a good start to round seven from pole but fellow front-row qualifier Jake Cook (Rotherham) wasn’t as fortunate and the Hillspeed driver slipped to the tail of the top six as Scorpio Motorsport’s Ivan Taranov (Oxford) surged past into second and Malaysian driver Tan claimed third.
Through the complex though, the Fortec Motorsports driver sensationally got ahead of Middlehurst and Taranaov with the latter elbowing the championship leader down to third. Into the chicane, Middlehurst re-took second but the intense battle over the runner-up spot had enabled Tan to open a 1.4 second lead after just the first 2.36 miles of racing.
Behind the top three, MTECH Lite’s Joe Ghanem and Cook diced over fourth place with the Lebanese driver momentarily getting ahead before Cook hit back on lap two. Over the next couple of laps, Middlehurst reduced Tan’s advantage and on lap five into the chicane he grabbed the lead.
Tan tried to hit back into the complex but the action was then neutralised when the Safety Car had to be deployed, to retrieve the stricken MTECH car of Ed Brand (Dagnall, Hertfordshire) which left the circuit at Village.
At the re-start on lap nine, Middlehurst led away from Tan with Taranov third, Cook pressuring him hard in fourth, Ghanem fifth and Argentina’s Matias Galetto in sixth. Tan produced an excellent pass at the complex to re-take the lead and Middlehurst then slipped to third at the end of the lap when Taranov, on the absolute edge of adhesion, managed to skittle around the outside on the brakes.
Compromising the Scorpio driver’s exit though, Middlehurst was able to shoot back past into second at the start of lap 10 with Cook moving into third. As before, the continued battle for second place enabled Tan to open-up a huge lead which, by the start of lap 12, stood at almost four seconds.
One lap later though, the Safety Car re-appeared – this time after a tangle involving Wei Fung Thong (Liverpool) and Diego Menchaca (Bedford) – so Tan’s lead was eroded. Racing resumed on lap 16 for a three lap sprint and Middlehurst lost second momentarily to Cook before hitting back immediately.
Into the final tour, Tan led by 0.7 seconds from Middlehurst with Ghanem into third after Cook locked-up at the chicane when looking to challenge for second. Tan looked set for the win but, out of Church, Middlehurst got a great run and managed to just squeeze alongside on the inside line into the chicane to snatch the victory – he also bagged the two bonus points for fastest lap.
Cook, meanwhile, fought back to third ahead of Ghanem with Taranov taking fifth ahead of his team-mate Henrique Baptista (Eastbourne) – up from 11th on the grid – with Hillspeed’s Matt Rao (Oxford) seventh, just holding off Hong Wei Cao (Stoke-on-Trent).
“I made it hard work for myself”, reflected third placed Cook, “I got a really bad start, I think I was down to sixth at the complex. I got back up to second but then made a mistake into the last corner trying to pass Chris [Middlehurst]. It was a late braking move and I flat-spotted the tyre, so after that I struggled a bit. It’s better than yesterday, it’s good to be on the podium.”
The finishing order of round eight was exactly the same, Middlehurst from Tan and Cook, but the complexion of the race was completely different. While unable to break away from the pack over the first few laps, Middlehurst remained in the lead and from mid-distance, as Cook, Tan and Taranov fought hard over second place, the MGR driver was able to open a clear advantage.
Building his lead to a massive 12 seconds by the finish on lap 15, Middlehurst just missed out on a perfect haul of fastest laps with the two bonus points from round eight instead going the way of Tan who managed to see off Cook after some sensational wheel-to-wheel battles. Producing a brave pass around the outside at Noble on the final lap, the Malaysian certainly deserved his second place.
Taranov came into play from lap eight onwards and ended the race just 0.5 seconds shy of the podium. Post-race though, the Russian was excluded from the results following an incident which occurred after the chequered flag had fallen. On the amended classification, Galetto inherited fourth place with Cao fifth and Baptista sixth.
“It was a tough race between me and Jake [Cook], it allowed Chris [Middlehurst] to get away but I managed to get Jake on the last lap which was quite a relief”, said Tan, “It was quite a risky move, I had tried to pass at the complex a few times but that didn’t work. So, I thought I should try a different strategy! It’s my strongest weekend yet, hopefully we can have a win at Croft.”
Croft Circuit in North Yorkshire will host the next three rounds of the 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Championship on 6th/7th July.
Along with headline sponsor Protyre, Formula Renault is additionally supported by Michelin, The Lubricant Consultancy, Petronas Syntium and NGK Spark Plugs.
Provisional 2013 Protyre Formula Renault Championship Standings (after Rd8):
1st Chris Middlehurst, 258pts; 2nd Jake Cook, 162pts; 3rd Jorge Cevallos, 141pts; 4th Weiron Tan, 129pts; 5th Hong Wei Cao, 114pts; 6th Joe Ghanem, 100pts